A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Church Office

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…Susan knows that her church employer values and supports healthy families, always encouraging parents to be there for their children. So when Susan’s young son has an after-school ballgame, Susan leaves early to be with him. She plans to make up the time working through her lunch the next two or three days (but, of course, she’ll also eat her lunch during that time). Bob on the pastoral team knows part of his job is to build relationships. He also knows that he needs to be healthy and look good. After all, obesity and being out of shape are not traits of a good role model. So Bob arranges to play squash with a pastor friend from a nearby church twice a week. Before and after the game, they encourage each other in the ministry and share their challenges – they even pray together.

There can be several problems with these two examples. First, in some churches, it could happen too often and may even become the practice rather than the exception. Second, even if acceptable or allowed, such behavior is not often “spun” very well, to use a public relations term. Outsiders who observe only the action (Susan taking off early, not being available to field calls; Bob living the life of Riley, having way too much fun), rather than the rationale behind it, can be frustrated by what they perceive. Third, Bob and Susan might begin to lose the support of other staff members who feel they’re pulling more than their own weight. In short, the whole team will suffer if no one confronts the situation openly. Fourthly, absences (regardless of the reason) do impact the progress of work – especially the progress of team projects – making it more difficult to schedule meetings or have questions answered. This impacts the overall achievement of objectives. In many cases, the level of excellence applied to programs is compromised and the congregation is short-changed.

Practice, Prevalence and Necessity

There are many churches where this is not an issue at all. Each staff member puts in full days and, in some cases, many nights on top of that. There are churches with staff who follow the lead of the senior pastor and put personal needs ahead of work during working hours. (On a related note, I know of one former pastor who refused to see engaged couples during evenings or weekends for premarital counseling, expecting them to take time off work instead.) Some pastors take an approach that says, “If my people don’t understand that I need this in order to be effective, that’s too bad – I’m not accountable to them. I’m accountable to God and my board.” True enough, but the fact is that just taking that attitude (regardless of what one does or doesn’t do) may end up being one’s downfall.

Most of us who observe organizations with today’s various generations in the workforce realize the importance of a work-life balance. In fact, I believe God wants us to have a proper work-life balance. A church needs to be an important model for the community of how to support such a balance. It is, however, important to take certain steps in creating such a culture — without it becoming a monster you cannot control.

What You Can Do About It

Here are some actions you can take to not only encourage a work-life balance, but also to communicate it and keep it from getting out of hand:

1. Develop, get approval for and communicate widely your ideal work-life balance and the role your church wants to play in being a model for its people and the community.

2. Establish and communicate a policy regarding work-life balance for staff. Include some parameters – limits, notice or approvals required, arranging backup, making up time, priority of meetings, satisfaction of deadlines, etc. These may differ for the various categories of staff (office, support, maintenance, pastoral), based on need or other demands a church makes on the group. It is most important that this be covered during the recruitment stage, as well as in periodic staff sessions or training.

3. Monitor the situations carefully through the appropriate supervisor. Take action early to curb any evident misuse that can creep in. Remember, a policy is only as good as those responsible for following it and those charged with enforcing it.

4. Sometimes it is necessary to differentiate between what is predominantly a pursuit of personal work-life balance versus something that is predominantly relational ministry. Generally speaking, if I’m going to play squash, regardless of who I play with, that activity may be more personal than ministry, and should be considered as such. If staff members are spending time intentionally with those to whom they are ministering (e.g., a youth pastor plays basketball every Tuesday morning with community youth who come to the church or drop-in center), then that’s work and should be treated and communicated as such.

5. Review your situation and policy every few years, and make the appropriate changes.

6. Share the relational ministry outcomes of your staff’s various activities (e.g., how Susan has started inviting another team mom to your evangelism program or her small group) with your congregation on a regular basis.

7. Finally, understand your congregation’s possible perception of these activities and always be prepared to lovingly and painstakingly win them over with the benefits you have identified.

Perhaps it’s time for your church to reconsider how well it does work-life and ministry-life balances.

Ken Godevenos has served on and/or chaired several church boards. He is a human resources and church consultant, mediator and executive director of SCA International. Call 905.853.6228 or visit www.accordconsulting.com for more information.

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